Former Missouri forward Michael Porter Jr. to make pro debut in NBA Summer League

Michael Porter Jr. drafted by Nuggets

Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr. dropped to the No. 14 pick in the NBA Draft on Thursday June 21, 2018 as questions about his back lingered.
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Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr. dropped to the No. 14 pick in the NBA Draft on Thursday June 21, 2018 as questions about his back lingered.

Michael Porter Jr. has always had a knack for returning on basketball’s biggest stages.

After missing almost the entire regular season as a Missouri freshman following back surgery, he made his return with the Tigers in St. Louis at the SEC Tournament and played in the NCAA Tournament.

So it made sense on Monday when Porter said he’s completely healthy and will play for the Denver Nuggets this July at the NBA’s Summer League in Las Vegas.

“My back doesn’t hurt anymore,” he told reporters. “I feel like I’m a better player than I’ve ever been.”

Porter missed the entire regular season with the Nuggets after being selected No. 14 overall in the 2018 NBA Draft. He underwent a second back surgery last summer at the advisement of Nuggets doctors.

The 6-foot-10 former No. 1 overall recruit was seen throughout the season on the Nuggets bench alongside friend and teammate Isaiah Thomas, who was rehabbing a hip injury. Without him, Denver was the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference and lost in the conference semifinals to the Portland Trail Blazers in seven games.

During the playoffs, Porter was spotted playing pickup games before the Nuggets and Blazers tipped off and a return in the summer league was hinted at in recent weeks.

Nuggets veterans Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokic said during exit interviews on Monday that Porter was a frequent trash-talker during his redshirt year and both are excited to see what he can do in the summer league.

Despite playing in just three games for MU as a freshman, Porter averaged 10 points and 6.7 rebounds per game while logging 53 minutes. While the Nuggets could have held Porter out of the summer league, the team likely wants to see how to implement him into the offense given the roster already has two proven scorers in Jokic and Jamal Murray.

Porter’s return to Missouri during the 2019 postseason threw the team’s offense out of sync, after Tigers coach Cuonzo Martin had to readjust it when his star player went down. With the Nuggets recent success, Porter’s game as a ball-dominant scorer will need to adjust to Denver coach Mike Malone’s system, which will likely call for him to defer to Jokic or Murray.

The NBA Summer League is slated to start on July 5.

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Alex Schiffer has been covering the Missouri Tigers for The Star since October 2017. He came in second place for magazine-length feature writing by the U.S. Basketball Writer’s Association in 2018 and graduated from Mizzou in 2017.